Current, former Lake Junaluska Singers allege drug abuse, favoritism
The resignation of Lake Junaluska Singers Director Dr. Melodie Galloway comes after one member of the well-known choral group made several written allegations to Junaluska officials after his termination from the group on June 25.
A June 30 press release from Lake Junaluska said Galloway had resigned her position and went on to announce the “suspension of the 2016 season of the Lake Junaluska Singers.” Galloway had directed the group since 2009.
The abrupt resignation and cancellation of the season followed the June 25 dismissal of Rusty Moore from the group and a complaint he filed with Lake Junaluska Human Resources manager on June 27. That complaint — obtained by The Smoky Mountain News on July 3 — made several allegations regarding Galloway and others in the group.
In the complaint, Moore claims one reason he was singled out for criticism was because he had picked up the habit of smoking cigarettes to help him cope with rehab for alcoholism. His complaint also made allegations about alcohol and marijuana use by members of the group while at the Colonial Inn, where members are housed. Many members of the group are 18 but not 21, and alcohol is not allowed anywhere on the premises of the Lake Junaluska Assembly.
According to police records from Vidalia, Georgia, Junaluska Singer Wesley Charles McCleary-Small was arrested for smoking marijuana on July 9, 2015, while the group was on tour. McCleary-Small remained a member of the 2016 Lake Junaluska Singers group until the season’s cancellation last week.
Three other current and former singers, some of whom approached Lake Junaluska Executive Director Jack Ewing in support of Moore’s complaints, corroborated the allegations made by Moore in his letter to human resources.
Madison Carter was a member of the 2015 Lake Junaluska Singers when McCleary-Small, then 22, was arrested in Vidalia for smoking marijuana. When on tour, singers often stay with a host family; according to multiple sources, McCleary-Small’s host family was notified of his arrest and attempted to bail him out of jail, but it remains unclear who actually did so, according to statements from current and former members of the group.
Carter said it was as if the arrest “never happened” as far as any formal discussion about it among the group and its director, and both Moore and Carter believe Ewing did not learn of the arrest until the human resources complaint was filed on June 25.
An abrupt end to the season
For the Lake Junaluska Singers, July 3 and 4 should have been some of the best days of their young lives. Instead, Independence Day found many of them angry, heartbroken, stranded and demanding answers.
When contacted, Galloway said she couldn’t comment on her sudden resignation, but Mackensie Kvalvik said that Galloway’s resignation was forced.
“In no way was it her choice to leave,” said Kvalvik, a Junaluska singer and Galloway’s daughter.
“People were very upset and crying and they asked, ‘Why? Why did this happen? What’s going on?’” said Kvalvik.
Ten minutes before the group was to depart for a concert at an Asheville retirement home June 29, Kvalvik said they all received a text from an unknown number instructing them to report to the administration building “immediately.”
There, Ewing gave them the news and gave them paychecks through August.
“It’s hard for us to have to deal with it that way,” Ewing said on July 1. “We want to protect the Lake Junaluska Singers, we want to protect Lake Junaluska, and we want to protect Dr. Galloway, so we are not talking publicly about the reasons behind the decision to suspend the season.”
Ewing went on to say that the process of finding Galloway’s replacement had already begun, and that he expected to have someone in place well before the 2017 season begins next June.
Also a performer, Galloway has toured extensively throughout the world, and serves as an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina – Asheville, Musical Director/Conductor for the Asheville Choral Society, and leader of the UNCA Chamber Singers.
She has a master’s degree from Florida State University in vocal performance and a Doctor of Musical Arts in conducting from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, according to online sources.
“You can verify this from any number of people that at every single Lake Junaluska Singers [performance], I’m sitting in the front row and I’m clapping as loud — I’m on my feet as often as anybody else,” said Ewing. “This has been a very important part of my life personally. It is an important part of the life of Lake Junaluska.”
Ewing, meanwhile, stood by what he said was a difficult decision.
“One of the things that any crisis of this magnitude does is it tests your systems,” he said. “You have confidence in the way in which you process challenges, make decisions during those challenges, handle the aftermath of them, and I have a great deal of confidence in the team that was involved in this process.”
“It unfolded quickly, but we have a great deal of comfort in the integrity of what we have done,” he said. “It’s not the outcome we would have liked but certainly we do not have any second thoughts about, ‘Should we have handled anything differently?’”
Disappointed fans and some singers took to social media to express their frustration at the cancellation, and to vent at the Lake Junaluska administration. Kvalvik said that she thought some negative posts on the Lake Junaluska Facebook page had been deleted, and that detractors had been blocked.
Tenor Shane Bloemetjie, with the group since 2010, said in a Facebook post on his own page that he was “baffled, disgusted, and utterly devastated” by the decision, and opined that “Lake Junaluska will regret their hasty choice to relieve Dr. Galloway.”
His post was shared by at least one other member of the group, some of whom are now staying at Galloway’s Arden home, said Kvalvik.
“A lot of the singers have nowhere to go,” said Kvalvik. “Some of the singers, they are not in a higher economic bracket and don’t have a way to get home.”
Singers come from across the county to be part of the group. They all lived at the Colonial Inn at Lake Junaluska, but had to vacate the premises when the season was suspended, according to Kvalvik.